One thing Bethesda accomplished during their impressive E3 press conference was renewing player faith in Doom. Questions, even concern, about - what was first referred to as Doom 4 - have been raised over time. How do you change a classic to fit modern expectation without losing the essence of what made it a cultural milestone in the first place?
Yet after having the opportunity to try it out exclusively at QuakeCon, we can safely say there's no reason to doubt the quality of the new Doom.
One of our biggest concerns before we got hands-on with the game was how it would feel. Almost every FPS nowadays has a strong tactical component, in-built time to consider your strategy. That is not the case with Doom. Encounter an enemy and there can be no hesitation. You need to be agile, quick-witted. But this ends up being a great thing.
It's a title that knows its roots, capable of bringing you back to those simpler 90s-style dynamics that were laid down as the foundations that the entire shooter genre would be built upon. But this offering from id Software isn't only a tribute; it takes enough risks to justify its return.
At QuakeCon's 20th anniversary in Dallas we had access to one of the multiplayer maps. Considering there were six players per team, it wasn't a very large arena. Compared to other games like Titanfall or even some of the more expansive arenas in Destiny, it felt smaller again. However, the map was just about big enough that you had to actively seek out your enemies. It fitted perfectly with the kind of game that Doom is.
And that's not to say that there isn't something more cerebral on offer here, and much of the map's quality lies in the various tactics players can employ. First of all, each of its areas offer a lot of verticality. There are always two or three different floors from which you can attack, and thanks to the double jump and elevators, it's very easy to ascend and descend. There's nothing like pouncing on an enemy and ending them with a single hit.
Likewise, both short range and long range weapons are viable. Some areas are enclosed enough so as to favour the shotgun, but there are also wider places where the rocket launcher is way more useful. In fact, this was the most popular combination amongst QuakeCon attendees; it's not the best, but it's the most accessible when you start out.
One of Doom's strongest elements is that there are no secondary weapons. If you choose a ranged weapon, your second weapon won't necessarily be a handgun or a submachine gun; you can equip heavy armament in both cases. The key here is finding the balance and a combination that fits with your play style. If you choose one of the machine guns, it is highly advisable that you aim for a second weapon that's more straightforward, but ultimately it's up to you.
The demo allowed us to choose between the standard frag grenades and a teleportation portal. The latter can be a key tactical option if used carefully. Once launched you can instantly reach it by simply pressing a button. We used it as we turned a corner where an opponent was shooting wildly. He charged after us thinking we'd be an easy target, but instead we appeared behind him, allowing for a quick kill. Hopefully there'll be more great ideas to come. Sure, there's a jetpack here, something you'll find in almost every shooter of this latest generation, but it most certainly has an identity of its own.
The items scattered around the stages are proof of Doom's throwback mentality. Health-regen doesn't feature here. Instead we have first-aid kits, regeneration packs that your enemies drop when they die. Same goes for ammo. This makes confrontation inevitable as there's no point fleeing. If you get shot, just fire back and see who survives and gets some extra life.
Apart from the first-aid kits and ammunition, there are objects dotted around the place like armour and portals that give you an advantage if you know the area. But boosts aside, there's one item that stands out: a capsule that turns you into a demon. This item appears at a certain point, and in short, turns you into a killing machine.
This power-up will be central to most 6v6 games, as every team will have to focus in getting the transforming orb and keeping it on their side.
While you're a demon you can jump higher, have more health and hit a lot harder. A demon can kill anyone with just one shot. The power of this alter-ego is such that it can turn the tide of an entire game, but it's limited to just forty-five seconds; if you die before the time's up, you'll drop the boost and whoever collects it will turn demon - so there's a great reward for taking down players in this deadly form.
The best thing about it is that it doesn't really diminish the other players' presence. Escorting the demon while it wreaks havoc will be as important as being the beast itself, so it doesn't in anyway promote lone wolf gameplay, and even with a demon in the room, you can still escape and go for the others. Every kill is worth the same in terms of points. If the demon is on your side, even if he's a tank-style character with lots of health, the most valid strategy is acting as its support and having the whole team fight alongside it.
One of the biggest surprises was the sheer brutality of this reboot. Finishing an enemy toe-to-toe will activate an animation (there are several of each kind) in which you kill them, whether it's with a knee to the nose or snapping their neck. We missed the chainsaw that was shown at E3, but all the finishing moves still offer plenty of gore. With such fast-paced combat, it's hard to stop and remember that you've got more options available than just pulling the trigger, but melee kills are more than just a nice aesthetic touch for the campaign.
Considering the short time we had to try it - less than one hour - it's impossible to take in the entire range of approaches that both the map, and the equipment, allowed for. The most interesting thing of all is that this is a game that holds no quarter, that doesn't make any compromises. There are no concessions. If you can't react quick enough you'll end up at the bottom of your team.
That said, it's clear there's a lot of depth here: Doom doesn't offer mindless frantic action. f you want to be useful at all, you'll obviously need to find the basic rhythm of classic shooters, and learn it anew. Staying still means dying. Reflexes, quick responses and twitchy skills are essential, all especially true in Doom.
But beyond numbers and handicaps, in the end it's all about the feeling you're left with after the five to six minute-long matches. And it's one hell of a rush. This new take has confidently carved out a niche of its own within the landscape of modern shooters. If you're looking for a brutal and frantic shooter in 2016 - Doom's leading the pack.
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